French PM Edouard Philippe resigns as Macron plans new team

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President Macron and Mr Philippe have worked together in government for the past three years
President Macron and Mr Philippe have worked together in government for the past three years

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has tendered his resignation after heading President Emmanuel Macron’s government for three years.

Although Mr Philippe is considered more popular than the president, the ruling La République En Marche (Republic on the Move) had poor local election results at the weekend.

Mr Philippe met the president and they agreed the government would resign.

President Macron promised a “new path” in an interview published on Friday.

A reshuffle has been expected for some time, and it is common practice for a French president to replace a prime minister during the five-year term in office known as the “quinquennat”.

The Elysée palace said in a statement that Edouard Philippe had “today handed in the government’s resignation to the president of the republic, who accepted it”, adding that he would stay in place until a new government was appointed.

Why Macron is changing his team

Mr Macron came to power three years ago but now faces an economic crisis after the coronavirus pandemic.

In the interview with regional newspapers, he spoke of a “very tough” recovery for France, and focused on the immediate priority of saving jobs, as well as economic, social and environmental reconstruction.

Mr Philippe’s future as prime minister had been in doubt for several weeks and he won the mayoral election in Le Havre on Sunday.

A new prime minister will be appointed in the coming hours, and theoretically Mr Philippe could be asked to stay in place.

However, a removal van and cardboard boxes were seen arriving at his Matignon residence on Friday indicating he was preparing to move out.

Speculation mounted in Paris over who would replace Mr Philippe. Among the names circulating in French media were Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly and Jean Castex, a mayor from the Pyrenees given the role of overseeing France’s strategy of ending the coronavirus lockdown.

Amid the chaos of coronavirus, President Macron talked of “reinvention” and a “new path”. Few here doubted that it would mean a new government.

Edouard Philippe was a good fit for Mr Macron during this crisis: a technocrat from the centre right who was seen as a steady pair of hands during the coronavirus epidemic, but he had started to outshine the president – a dangerous place to be at any time, let alone a time that calls for change.

Mr Macron is facing a complex set of demands. On one hand, he wants to “reinvent” himself for the last two years of his mandate, and has been projecting a softer version of himself; more open to listening and admitting mistakes, more focused on green issues and social justice. That might call for a prime minister with more left-wing appeal.

On the other hand, centre-right votes are likely to be key to any re-election bid and, after several years of pushing hard for his liberal economic reforms, a blatant change of tack at this stage could look less like reinvention and more like confusion.

The president praised his "unique" relationship with Mr Philippe
The president praised his “unique” relationship with Mr Philippe

Having already promised massive investment in France’s health service, committed to pursuing pension reforms – at least in some form, and facing the worst recession in France since World War Two, Mr Macron will need someone he can rely on, someone who can take the flak if needed.

That’s what prime ministers are meant to do. Edouard Philippe broke the rules. As he heads towards the next presidential race, Mr Macron won’t want to be outshone again.

“For three years he’s been by my side… we’ve carried out important, historic reform often in very difficult circumstances. We have a relationship of trust that’s in a way unique in terms of the French Republic,” the president said of Mr Philippe in his interview published late on Thursday.

Under France’s constitution, the prime minister is appointed by the president to run the government an co-ordinate its actions under policies set out by the president.

Mr Macron’s young LREM party has struggled to maintain the initial support it won from voters after his presidential victory in 2017. Dogged by ministerial resignations, it has also seen a number of defections in the National Assembly, losing its outright majority in May.

The party failed to win any major city in Sunday’s local elections, in which Green candidates and their left-wing allies made significant gains.

An opinion poll for Le Figaro and France Info on Thursday suggested three quarters of French voters were looking for political change from the president.

Although many of those surveyed wanted greater focus on social and environmental change, 59% were happy for Mr Philippe to stay in his job.

Source: BBC

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